Botswana is one of the most well-loved safari countries in Africa, for good reason! With an astounding diversity of wildlife in a variety of habitats, incredible safari camps and lodges, and top-notch wildlife guides; a Botswana luxury safari is definitely one for the bucket list!
I am delighted to share with you below my top insights that you need to know if you are planning a safari to Botswana. This is a must-read guide, especially if you have never travelled to Botswana before. You can expect the most breath-taking experiences; I believe that everybody should visit at least once in their lifetime, though be warned, you may not want to leave!
My top reasons to take a luxury safari to Botswana include:
Having lived much of my life in Botswana working in the safari industry, I believe it is one of the most exciting places for a luxury wildlife safari on the continent.
This is an incredible and unique ecosystem, one of the largest inland (endorheic) deltas in the world. Annual crystal-clear flood waters submerge the vast area of the Okavango Delta and this becomes a home to thousands of animals. There are regions that are permanently flooded year-round, and areas on the fringes that are much more seasonal.
Chiefs Island dominates the centre of the Delta and here one can see large herds of buffalo and elephant. Animals also live on the thousands of islands scattered with palm trees and hills. From warthog to hippo, crocodiles to red lechwe and sitatunga who live in the reed beds, the wildlife and birdlife is sensational, and this is a year-round destination.
Explore on House Boats in the panhandle area of the Okavango Delta, which is ideal for bird watching and fishing. One can also take a canoeing safari in traditional dugout canoes, known as mokoros. Silently drifting through the reeds and water channels is one of the best ways to explore this marvellous place.
There are so many sublime places to stay here, but some of the best safari lodges and camps in Botswana are Xugana, Camp Okavango and Kanana Camp. For more privacy, exclusive-use properties I adore staying at during an Okavango Delta luxury safari include:
Within the Delta and covering about 40% of the Okavango Delta Game Reserve, the Moremi Game Reserve is rich with wildlife. Indeed, it boasts the most endangered species of large mammals including populations of cheetah, giraffe, African wild dog (painted wolves) and lion.
The eastern side of Moremi is named Khwai and is the best place in the country for sighting raptors. During a safari holiday in Botswana, you can also have excellent leopard and general wildlife sightings here. Xakanaxa area and its lagoon is part of the fringes of the Okavango so there is a tremendous diversity of habitats. In addition, the ‘South Gate’ area exists as a significant big game destination in its own right, with mopane forests.
Some of the best Botswana safari camps in this area include Khwai Camp (a luxury mobile camp) Chitabe and Sandibe (located in a private concession below Moremi), Chief’s Camp on Chief’s Island, and Mombo. Mombo Camp has a delightful exclusive use property, Little Mombo, which is ideal for those seeking privacy in an ultra-luxury environment.
Chobe is best known for its extraordinarily large herds of elephant, but it is also wonderful for spotting predators. Leopard are often seen along the banks of the Chobe River and lion prides dominate territories on the floodplains.
The unpredictable Savuti Channel, which runs dry for many years at a time and then floods seemingly at random, is one of the most game-rich regions where you can have exceptional wildlife sightings.
Houseboats are an excellent choice for exploring the Chobe River (though technically in Namibian waters). Other luxury safari lodges in Botswana I highly recommend are Savute Safari Lodge and Savuti Elephant Lodge.
The Linyanti and Savuti region lies to the north-west of the Okavango and links the Okavango and Chobe ecosystems. It has river habitats around the Kwando River, Selinda Spillway Linyanti River and Savute Channel which creates a beautiful system of river channels and floodplains with astounding opportunities for wildlife safaris in Botswana.
There are also plenty of bush and woodland areas too. This system is known for its wild dog populations, and also has a zebra migration, populations of bull elephants as well as lion prides and leopard.
The Selinda Reserve makes up a large portion of the Linyanti and is home to Zarafa Camp and the Zarafa Dhow Suites, an extraordinary exclusive-use camp that was the first Relais et Châteaux property in Botswana.
Take a tour around >> Zarafa Dhow Suites
The Kalahari Desert covers much of Botswana and extends into both Namibia and South Africa - the sands even extend into southern Angola. It is a vast semi-arid savannah environment with amazing desert-adapted wildlife and lots to experience on your safari to Botswana. Within the geographical Kalahari Desert, several large, protected areas are worthy of note:
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) covers 52,800 square kilometres of the central part of Botswana, and is the second-largest game reserve in the world. The reserve is characterised by vast open plains, saltpans and ancient riverbeds. Magnificent cloud formations can be seen during the summer rains!
Between January to June desert wildlife sightings can be extraordinary; herds of springbok in their hundreds and wildebeest in their thousands still roam the plains and this is the home to the Kalahari black maned lion.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Mabusahube are located to the far southwestern corner of Botswana and spans the border with South Africa. Mostly accessed from the South Africa side, these parks have beautiful sand dunes, meerkats, springbok, lions, aardvark and black-maned lions and are well worth a visit for self-drive visitors enjoying a safari holiday in Botswana.
The Makgadikgadi Pans incorporate several salt pans including Nxai Pan, Nwetwe Pan and Sua Pan. These salt flats are vast, seemingly inhospitable and arid, yet during the rainy season are home to thousands of flamingos, pelican and other waders.
In the dry season they host a zebra migration, brown hyena, bull elephants and oryx. One can go and sleep out under the stars with only a bedroll, go quad biking or horse riding across the plains, and visit the local habituated meerkat colonies. Walking with the local Basarwa San people in the desert is a wonderful window into their culture and history.
Tuli Reserve is located in the far eastern nose of Botswana and is a simply fantastic reserve to explore on foot, in 4x4 vehicles, or on horseback and even on mountain bikes with a guide leading you. The landscape is dotted with rocky outcrops and formations amongst a savannah ecosystem, with occasional baobabs scattered. There are sunken hides where one can take incredible photographs from ground level.
The Mashatu Game Reserve is located in the northern part of the Tuli Reserve and offers refuge to the largest elephant population on a private reserve on the African continent. A fascinating place to stay in Mashatu is the Euphorbia Villas, eight exclusive-use eco-villas that opened in June 2020. They were designed to reflect the shape of the Euphorbia seed pod and combine luxury with sustainability, perched on the edge of a cliff with exquisite views overlooking the Majale River and plains below.
Finally, the Tsodilo Hills are well worth a visit. These are one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Botswana (the other being the Okavango Delta) and are important for their ancient San rock art paintings.
Botswana’s luxury safari industry is well established and there are a wide range of safari properties to suit all tastes, from rustic luxury camps in the style of the original safaris, all the way through to ultra-stylish lodges with contemporary art aplenty. The type of accommodation you select for your Botswana safari completely and utterly depends on what your interests are and what experiences you are looking for.
One of my favourite ways of taking a safari in Botswana is to stay in a small, mobile tented camp that moves each day. This is an excellent way to experience a range of wildlife and are also perfect for a family experience, with your own guide and staff to do everything for you. Generally these are taken on a private basis, and can be super luxurious with your own bathrooms, proper beds and three course meals!
What is it like to take a luxury mobile safari in Botswana? >> Watch the video
Yes, families have the most wonderful experiences in Botswana! Most safari camps accept children from 8 years upwards, with a few exceptions. We recommend (and many camps require) that you have a private vehicle if travelling with children under 12 years old.
There are even some spectacular camps that are wholly aimed at creating a memorable Botswana family safari that you experience together. Footsteps Camp is my top recommendation for this.
However, it is worth noting that no camps, lodges or mobile safaris are fenced and wild animals have the right of way, so be aware and listen to the camp staff and guide at all times.
Footsteps Young Explorers family safari >> watch the video
One can take 4x4 game drives with your specialist guides in all safari regions, which is a great way to venture away from camp and cover larger distances seeking wildlife.
In addition, I believe that spending time in the bush on foot, walking with your guide and seeing all the minutia up-close is an excellent and immersive experience and I would recommend doing this wherever possible. Several camps offer morning walks as part of the safari and there is one camp which focuses entirely on this. However, walking is not allowed in National Parks and official Game Reserves.
Lastly, an interesting mode of safari is taking water-based explorations of the waterways. There is nothing better than drifting through the channels of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro (dugout canoe), to happen upon a herd of elephant drinking from the riverbank just metres away from you!
For more personalised information about a bespoke safari to Botswana tailored to your own requirements, please feel free to get in touch.
There are no direct flights from Europe to Botswana, but it is very accessible by road or air from any of the countries surrounding it in southern Africa
By air one can fly from Johannesburg into Kasane (the gateway to the Chobe National Park). Or the most common route is by air from Johannesburg, South Africa into Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta and more.
One can access Botswana in the north by road from Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Livingstone (Zambia) and from Namibia’s Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi Strip). There are road border crossings from eastern Namibia and in the Tuli Block and reserve areas over the Limpopo River.
The capital Gaborone lies close the South African border so one can also arrive by road or air.
For bird watching any time of the year is good, however migratory birds arrive around November to bred and depart again around March/ April. Visitors include the paradise fly catchers and woodland kingfisher. There are also several well-known heronries, though the general season is between August and November, some species also bred out of season should there be favourable conditions.
Wildlife viewing from permanent waterholes is probably best between June through December when the rain has finished and the water evaporates from seasonal shallow waterholes.
The flood waters of the Okavango Delta arrive into the panhandle around March and flow down and into the delta, eventually reaching Maun and the Boteti River in about July which mean water safari activities are possible as the waters rise. As the flood waters recede and start to dry the wildlife concentrates around permanent water sources, giving a different game viewing experience. Annual rains start around December and fall intermittently until mid-March.
The hottest months are October / November/ January / February, and the coldest (dry) months are May through mid-August. Those that prefer cooler weather may find the hottest months too uncomfortable.
Images by kind courtesy of: Baines Camp, Ker and Downey Botswana, Natural Selection Safaris, Euphorbia Villas (photgrapher Isak Pretorius), Wilderness Safaris (photogapher Crookes and Jackson), Great Plains Conservation.